Greater China PR Consultancies of the Year 2019 | Holmes Report
Charting the future of public relations

2019 Greater China PR Consultancies of the Year

The 2019 Asia-Pacific PR Consultancies of the Year are the result of an exhaustive research process involving more than 125 submissions and meetings with the best PR firms across the region. 

Consultancy of the Year winners are announced and honoured at the 2019 Asia-Pacific SABRE Awards, which take place on 12 September in Singapore. Analysis of all Finalists and Winners can be accessed via the navigation menu to the right or below:

Winner: Ruder Finn (Independent)

Ruder Finn’s regional revenues were up 23% in 2018 to more than $37m, with another year of impressive growth powered once again by a Mainland China operation that remains one of the market’s strongest. The firm boasts more than 400 people across offices in Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou and Hong Kong, accounting for 90% of its regional revenue, and Greater China growth of 12% in 2018 has been followed by another year of double-digit expansion in 2019.

Asia-Pacific CEO Elan Shou is based in Shanghai, reflecting the importance of the agency’s China operations to its overall network. There is considerable strength across automotive and luxury, along with fast-growing capabilities in travel & tourism, beauty and digital, with the latter now accounting for 40% of Ruder Finn’s China revenue, up from around 25% in 2017.

The agency’s China client base favours these sectors, including such names as Google, Moet Hennessy Diageo, HSBC, L’Oréal, Sanofi, Montblanc, Longines, Almond Board of California, Mercedes Benz and Disney. And, in keeping with the content to commerce revolution sweeping the market, much of the work is integrated, including new assignments for STB, Changi Airport, Tencent, CLP Power, Australian Open, the UK Department of International Trade, Marriott and VIP Lux. All of which reflects the firm’s re-engineering of its integrated capabilities, which now spans the full range of marketing services including influencer management, digital media buying, campaign design, social video and advertising, reflected in its win of the Almond Board of California’s $1.1m integrated marketing tender, in which it competed against advertising, digital and PR firms.

The firm’s digital operations, which include the RFI hub in Hong Kong, continue to impress — completing a range of assignments for such clients as HSBC, McDonald’s, HKMA and DBS Asia — and bolstered by a strong willingness to invest in new tools and research. These include the Sonar Crisis Simulation programme; the AI-driven Influenpedia resource that is already being used by Burberry, Longines and Chaumet; and the Beacon influencer heatmap. And the firm has invested to upgrade its research capabilities, resulting in new work for Orbis, CLP, Manulife, Prudential and HSBC. 

In addition to Shou, key leaders included luxury head Gao Ming, Shanghai MD Tony Dong, IMC practice leader Long Xi, and RFI Asia MD David Ko. Unsurprisingly, the best of the firm’s work blends consulting with integrated marketing strength, resulting in a string of SABRE finalists, including influencer marketing work for Hennessy; publicity efforts for McDonald’s; financial services campaigns for CITIC and Visa; public awareness for Amgen. — AS

Finalists

BCW (WPP)

The merger of Burson-Marsteller and Cohn & Wolfe has not been without issues, but in Greater China the whole may well exceed the sum of the parts, given the complementary nature of the agencies. Burson has brought corporate and public affairs heft, particularly in Beijing, allied to Cohn & Wolfe’s consumer and digital capabilities in Shanghai. In Hong Kong, meanwhile, the two firms share a focus on technology, which has helped them snare a number of major assignments that reflect the technology focus of the Greater Bay Area.

The firm’s leadership team features Qu Hong in Beijing, Jeffrey Yu in Shanghai (a recent hire to replace Tiffany Bai) and Veeco Tang in Shenzhen, while regional president Matt Stafford also oversees Hong Kong. Stafford has also used the merger to deepen his practice leadership, which now includes Douglas Dew (corporate/PA), Joe Peng (digital innovation), Polka Yu (integrated marketing), Yimin Wang (China going global), Cyrus Yeung (brand), and George Godsal (reputation, risk and crisis).

All of which gives BCW an increasingly formidable offering across Greater China, with around 280 people delivering 11% growth in mainland China, and 90 staffers recording an eye-catching expansion of 43% in Hong Kong. Much of that is down a stellar new business haul that includes Lenovo China, Ali Group, Ping An, Skyworth, Air China, Converse, Bloomberg and Under Armour — with BCW also demonstrating an ability to land coveted integrated marketing assignments.

And the campaign work demonstrates that the merger’s benefits are not purely operational either, with the firm picking up a string of SABRE nominations. These included a campaign for Oppo to promote 5G connectivity; a global digital platform targeting UK travelers for Air China; a successful effort to increase Converse sales in Shanghai; and an art-focused push for Huawei’s Honor in Hong Kong. — AS


FleishmanHillard
(Omnicom Group)

25 years since it launched its Asia-Pacific presence in Beijing, FleishmanHillard’s Greater China operation continues to motor along in some style, with Greater China president Rachel Catanach supported by a leadership team that includes COO Lichi Hsueh and a slate of new GMs for its offices in Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong. The firm also expanded its footprint to include a Shenzhen operation, with Greater China (estimated at 200 executives) again serving as the single largest driver for FleishmanHillard’s growth in Asia-Pacific. 

Much of that was led by Shanghai, which grew sharply by 40% in 2018, underpinning Greater China growth of 10% last year and 22% to date in 2019. Indeed, Shanghai’s expansion has seen it overtake the Beijing as the firm’s biggest China operation, which also reflects the growth in creative, digital and social capabilities that have powered this performance. A trio of senior figures in Shanghai — ECD Graham Fordyce,  SVP Daniel Koh and GM Helena He — oversees a pure digital team of 10 people, helping deliver significantly expanded capabilities in design, paid media, ecommerce and influencer management. All of which has paid off with an impressive portfolio of new business for such clients as GM, Zhong An Online, TD Ameritrade, Clearblue, Taikang Life Insurance, Bosideng, Fitbit, Noluma, Reckitt Benckiser and ExxonMobil. 

Meanwhile, FleishmanHillard’s Greater China offices have seen particular success when it comes to helping China brands go global, supporting such domestic heavyweights as Bosideng, TCL, Alibaba, Lenovo, BoC, ICBC, Tencent, Taikang Life Insurance and Mengniu — which feature on a existing client roster that also includes the likes of Nike, P&G, Philips, Hong Kong Land, AIA, Burberry, Corning Gorilla Glass, various Hong Kong Government assignments, Seagate, Manulife and J&J — underlining FleishmanHillard’s strength across consumer, sports/entertainment, financial services, healthcare, corporate and technology.

The launch of a new crisis social listening tool by the Beijing office has helped bring in new business from Mead Johnson, P&G and J&J, while the firm’s campaign work reflects its increasingly sophisticated digital capabilities. This included helping Nike launch WeChat programs in conjunction with its first House of Innovation in Shanghai and its direct leadership summit; localising Corning Gorilla Glass’ global music campaign with Chinese influencers; and, driving sales for ClearBlue in a hitherto difficult market. 

And mention should also be made of FleishmanHillard’s thought leadership profile. The firm regularly delivers the best China-focused sessions at the Cannes Lions festival, and has also developed a local version of its in-depth Authenticity Gap research, alongside specific studies into public affairs, AI and technology trends. — AS


Ogilvy
(WPP)

With fee income estimated at more than $80m, Ogilvy’s PR and influence division retains its place as the largest international PR firm in China, a position it has held with distinction for many years. The firm’s regional CEO Scott Kronick, of course, made his name in the market, and remains based in Beijing, surrounded by a handpicked leadership team that has, for the most part, stayed in place for more than a decade. While veteran Greater China chief Debby Cheung departed last year, the firm’s PR leaders continue to ascend to broader group management roles, evidenced most notably by Selina Teng in Beijing and Frangelica Liang in Guangzhou, while Joe Yu has taken on the PR leadership remit in China. 

So while Ogilvy dispenses with its agency brand architecture, the PR ‘domain’ continues to punch above its weight in Greater China, growing by 11.5% in 2018 and serving as the group’s standout performer in Beijing and Shanghai. All told, there are more than 650 staffers across offices in Hong Kong, Taipei, Guangzhou, Shanghai, Shenzhen and Beijing, accounting for a little more than half of the network’s total Asia-Pacific headcount and revenue. And its expertise, particularly across social but also encompassing public affairs and crisis management, remains second to none — evidenced by the IBM AI Vision unit in Beijing and a broad range of influencer management and technology tools. 

New business over the past year included the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics PR and social brief, Taya Group in Taiwan, Huawei, AIA, Colgate, Korean Air, the HKJC and Courtyard by Marriott, who join an existing client roster that features Intel, Tencent, Nestle, Shiseido, Unilever, Amazon, Dell, Yum and HSBC. The firm’s reputation with large local players and outbound-focused government entities remains in strong shape, typified by support for the Xian Government’s efforts to promote itself as an international investment destination, and for a range of high-level economic and political events across China. 

But it is not just the agency’s scale that impresses in China. The work continues to demonstrate the kind of ‘next chapter’ thinking that has been in place for several years now, thanks to a strong creative contingent and one of the strongest digital units in the market. That much was reflected by a stellar haul of SABRE finalists, including impressive CSR work for the LCY Foundation in Taiwan, and smart integration of public affairs and technology for Intel’s Mobileye product in Beijing. — AS

Weber Shandwick (Interpublic Group)

Weber Shandwick has posted impressive regional growth over the past four years and Greater China exerts a compelling influence over that expansion, with the sub-region accounting for around half of regional revenues. More than a third comes from mainland China, where the firm returned to growth in 2018, up in the high single-digits following considerable investment in capabilities that has resulted in a much clearer focus on digital, data and creative. The firm now has more than 400 people across offices in Beijing, Shanghai, Taiwan and Hong Kong, overseen by chairman David Liu and Lydia Lee — who took over market leadership as president when Darren Burns shifted to Singapore to become regional vice chair.

Under Burns, China established itself as a global innovation centre for Weber Shandwick, a process that is underpinned by such tools as C3 (content to commerce) and Kloud (influencer management), along with the 2017 acquisition of data consultancy Bomoda. The firms’s China operation now counts significant depth in creativity, data and content, including ECD Ali Grayeli in Shanghai, and is set to launch new tools focusing on ecommerce and audience engagement later this year. 

Accordingly, there was new business from AIB Sports, GSK, Haagen Dazs, Manuka Health, Make Up for Ever, Oppo and Sanofi, joining a client roster that features Ericsson, GE, GM, Hyatt, Mastercard , Melco Crown, Nestle, Nike, Swatch, Ting Hsin, Turkish Airlines and Victoria’s Secret. 

In Hong Kong, meanwhile, the long-term leadership of Albert Shu continues to outperform despite its status as market leader, submitting 8% growth thanks to strength across healthcare, corporate and consumer, and a client base that includes HK Jockey Club, Wynn Resorts, Samsung and Vanguard Group, along with new business from Jardine, Roche, University of Chicago and Walton. 

And while Weber Shandwick’s expansion into data and social commerce is impressive, the firm’s elevated creative capabilities give it a distinct edge against many rivals, evidenced in particular by the SABRE-nominated ‘Cuupcakes’ effort for Roche, along with Oppo’s global #SeizetheNight effort. — AS